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Adrian A. Smith

b. Kingston-upon-Hull, 28 October 1931

d. Huddersfield, 6 December 2005

Contributions from
John Quinn
Paul Serotsky
Sir Malcolm Arnold, CBE
Arthur Butterworth MBE
Mathew Curtis
Keith Llewellyn
Elaine Carter
Marilyn and Dick Myers, Edgewood Symphony Orchestra
Stuart Marsden, SPO Trumpeter
David Golightly Composer
Maggie Cotton CBSO Principal Percussionist (retired), writer, critic
Pauline Thornburn - pupil
Jean Gooden, SPO oboe/cor anglais player (retired)
Christopher Woodhead, SPO Secretary and Violinist
Jenny Carter, pupil
Graham Moon – SPO Timpanist (1981- )

Web link: Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra

Following a protracted and debilitating illness, Adrian Smith died peacefully in his sleep at Kirkwood Hospice, Huddersfield, on the evening of Tuesday 6 December.

Figuratively speaking, Adrian was not just one man but a hundred men. As John Quinn intimates below, Adrian touched the lives of so many people - from both within and far beyond the bounds of Huddersfield - for so many disparate reasons that it is all but impossible for any one person to do full justice to his life and achievements.

John’s admirable "appreciation" richly deserves its "top billing" because it fulfils, as well as any is likely to, the rôle of a formal obituary. However, it also opens a book of remembrance, into which others can add their own personal tributes – so if you have one, then please send it to Rob Barnett for inclusion. By this means we hope to be able to build up a composite picture which will do something like "full justice" to this remarkable man.


Obituary and Appreciation, by John Quinn

I knew Adrian Smith for over 40 years, first as a stimulating teacher, then as a greatly valued friend and mentor, and always as a consummate and inspiring musician. In the following appreciation I have drawn heavily on an article I contributed, in early 2000, to the Slaithwaite Philharmonic’s quarterly magazine, Philharmonic. The title of that article, ‘An Impressive Anniversary’: thirty years of Adrian Smith and the Slaithwaite Phil’ was a shameless borrowing from the title of Adrian’s own history of the orchestra, An Improbable Centenary. The Life and Times of the Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra 1891-1990. That fascinating book was as masterly a piece of historical writing by a trained historian as it was an affectionate and entertaining portrait of a remarkable musical institution by a perceptive and enthusiastic musician.

My links with Adrian Smith go back to 1963 when I arrived at what was then St. Gregory’s Grammar School, Huddersfield (subsequently All Saints’ Comprehensive School) as a first form pupil. By coincidence, Adrian joined the staff at the same time. Initially, I encountered him as a teacher of History but it was not long before he was stamping his own personality very firmly on the musical life of the school and the manner in which he did so is, I believe, highly relevant to his subsequent role with the Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra.

St Gregory’s was then a fairly new school and did not have much of a musical tradition. Though Adrian was not the music master, within a short time of his arrival at the school he had formed a boy’s choir, which I joined. Though few if any of the members of the new choir could have done any serious singing at our previous schools Adrian had no interest in a ‘softly, softly’ style. Instead we were pitched straight in at the deep end and were confronted with Britten’s Missa Brevis in D, composed as recently as 1959 for the choir of Westminster Cathedral, no less. Adrian followed the Missa Brevis with another work by Britten, the even more demanding Ceremony of Carols.

In due course Adrian became involved with the school’s fledgling orchestra and, as voices broke, he was also able to develop a full choir. This choir too was stretched from the outset. The first major work to be undertaken was Zoltan Kodaly’s Missa Brevis, in the full orchestral version. I think that it was in the programme for that concert that a note appeared under the name of the Headmaster in which Pierre Boulez was quoted in support of the ambitious choice of music. The Head (prompted, I’m sure, by Adrian) reminded the audience that, according to Pierre Boulez: "without danger there is no excitement; one does not learn to swim in six inches of water." I hope I have remembered the quotation accurately for it seems to me to sum up what was one of Adrian’s guiding principles throughout his conducting career.

The successful performance of the Kodály Mass was later followed by what in the mid 1960s was another rarity at least in the UK, the Requiem of Maurice Duruflé. For this difficult score the school orchestra again needed some stiffening. By this time, however, Adrian was able to ‘summon the cavalry’ from Slaithwaite for by then his association with the SPO had begun. He’d initially joined as a violinist but after a short time he was asked in 1969 to become Conductor on a trial basis

I have dwelt at some length on Adrian’s musical achievements at St. Gregory’s because I think that these may offer signposts to his future musical career. The keynotes seem to me to be enterprise; catholicity of taste (Adrian’s accomplishments at that time also included acting as M.D. for very successful runs of three Broadway musicals, produced by a neighbouring school); a determination to involve as many people as possible in music; and a conviction that people could have fun making music without any reduction in standards.

I was able to continue my links with Adrian after leaving St Gregory’s thanks to my continuing membership of the SPO and it was my good fortune to play some part in the rejuvenation and expansion of the orchestra in the first few years of Adrian’s conductorship.

The Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra was based in a small mill town a few miles outside Huddersfield on the road to Oldham. It was typical of the many long-established choirs, brass bands and orchestras that existed in even the smaller communities around industrial towns such as Huddersfield. The orchestra had enjoyed some true glory days in the early twentieth century, making successful appearances at what was then the very prestigious Morecambe Festival, but in more recent years it had fallen on hard times with audiences and playing membership in steep decline. In short it was a pretty parlous state when Adrian became its conductor in 1969. He set about the task of rebuilding the orchestra with characteristic vigour. Additional players were recruited from various sources, usually attracted by word of mouth and the rumour that something interesting was beginning to happen in Slaithwaite.

In 1980 Adrian led the SPO in a performance of Elgar’s First Symphony In my view it was the key concert during my time with the SPO. Indeed, I would suggest that, with due deference to the many triumphs which followed it (not to mention the great successes of the SPO’s early years), that performance of the Elgar symphony has claims to be the single most important performance the orchestra has ever given. The players had to stretch themselves significantly to surmount the difficulties with which that glorious score abounds. However, in Adrian they had the best possible trainer and the performance was a great success. To do justice to such a complex, rich work required the SPO membership of 1980 to make a quantum leap not just in terms of technical competence but, crucially, in terms of confidence and self-belief. The undertaking, which was Adrian’s idea of course, was therefore a risk, but definitely a carefully calculated risk.

That concert proved that the SPO was capable of tackling ambitious music and certainly gave the committee the confidence to plan accordingly. On that performance, I venture to suggest, was founded the subsequent success of Adrian’s SPO. We followed that performance with successful renditions of the Vaughan Williams London Symphony and Shostakovich 10th Symphony. These, in turn, paved the way for the accounts of literally dozens of symphonies and other major works by Nielsen, Rachmaninov, Mahler, Malcolm Arnold, Walton, George Lloyd and others, all of which lay in the future (sadly, after I had left the Orchestra.) In due course both the other two Elgar symphonies were done.

Adrian stepped down from the Slaithwaite podium at the end of 2001 after an unprecedented thirty-two years at the helm of the orchestra. By the time he retired Adrian had led the orchestra for over a quarter of its (then) 110 year history and it is almost certain that such a lengthy tenure of office will never occur again; indeed, it is probable that few other conductors of amateur orchestras or choirs could claim such a long period of service to one organization.

Despite retiring from conducting (sadly, guest conducting invitations rarely seem to have come his way) Adrian continued his immersion in music in other ways. For some time he’d been a concert reviewer for the Huddersfield Examiner newspaper and he continued this work. I know he was never afraid to court controversy – though never for its own sake – and his reviews were always succinct, opinionated and extremely well informed. To everything he did he brought the same high standards of intellectual rigour, economic prose style and an insistence on correct grammar, spelling and punctuation that, as a teacher, he had always instilled in his history pupils.

Those qualities he also brought for a while to MusicWeb. He retired from MusicWeb shortly after introducing me to the reviewing panel but only very recently, at the end of November 2005, he began what was to be, sadly, a very short-lived relationship as a reviewer of classical CDs for the Birmingham Post newspaper. He wrote characteristically to me just a few days before he died that he was anticipating his second batch of reviews: "This week should see a 'thumbs down' for two discs of Mendelssohn's organ music and possibly a mixed bag from Gloucester [of choral music?] which I haven't yet heard." Unfortunately, his death probably means that the Mendelssohn discs gained a critical reprieve!

In reviewing his farewell SPO concert for the Orchestra’s magazine I attempted to sum up Adrian’s achievements by reference to some of the descriptions others had applied to him. My MusicWeb colleague, Paul Serotsky, made a characteristically provocative comparison with Leonard Bernstein and I know what he meant: whatever your opinion of Bernstein there is no denying his role as a musical educator and proselytiser. However, the comparison that I myself made was with the work of Sir John Barbirolli at the Hallé. I don’t think the comparison is too far-fetched. Both came to an orchestra almost on the brink of extinction and both built their bands up patiently over time and took them to new heights of achievement. Both remained loyal to "unfashionable" orchestras for long periods of time (in fact Barbirolli’s long tenure of the Halle (1943-1970) was shorter than Adrian’s with the SPO). Both championed English music and Mahler and had several other musical enthusiasms in common. Both were excellent accompanists for soloists. Both of them aspired to achieve always the highest standards. And finally both always gave warm, generous performances and drew the best out of their players.

However, even more apposite, and certainly more succinct was, the verdict of Maggie Cotton, a long-serving percussionist with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, who came to know Adrian well. In my view she really coined the mot juste with her description of "Adrian the Enabler". What a felicitous expression and how aptly does it sum up Adrian’s achievements both as a conductor and as a teacher (and I was lucky enough to experience him as both).

Adrian Smith was a remarkable man and an inspiring musician. It is entirely fitting that in recognition of his contribution to the musical life of the Huddersfield area his portrait hangs in the Town Hall crush bar joining those of many other distinguished musicians, including ‘Glorious John’ Barbirolli himself.

I can hear him now gently, or perhaps not so gently, chiding me for the fact that this appreciation is so lengthy. He taught me so much but even he could not instil concision in me! Still, with the passing of a remarkable teacher and musician, who I was privileged to count as a close friend, it is right that these things should be said. Many in the Huddersfield area and beyond will mourn his passing, and rightly so. But it is far more important that we should celebrate his life and achievements and in particular give thanks that one man was able so greatly and so positively to influence the lives of so many people.

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